After finishing on a roll for a change, Spirit set to meet its playoff nemesis


Does the Harrisburg Heat still have the Spirit's number?

That question will be answered when the I-83 rivals meet for the fourth straight year in the National Professional Soccer League's American Division semifinals. The best-of-three series begins Thursday night at 7: 30 at the Baltimore Arena.

Unlike last season, when the Spirit entered the playoffs having lost its last five regular-season games, Baltimore has been playing as well as it has all season. Despite a tough season-ending, seven-game road trip, the Spirit is 7-3 in its past 10 games and 12-3 since Mike Stankovic took over as coach Jan. 31.

"We've had so many road games lately, I don't want to go back on the road again," said Stankovic, whose team clinched second place in its division and home-field advantage with Saturday's 6-5 win over St. Louis.

"But we finished the season very well, and that was what was important. Our team is playing tremendous soccer, and if we can continue to perform the way we are capable, we'll be in good shape. If we don't, we'll be in trouble, again."

Here is a look at the semifinal matchups in the NPSL's division playoffs:

American Division

Baltimore Spirit (25-15, second place) vs. Harrisburg Heat (24-16, third place).

The Heat eliminated the Spirit from the best-of-three playoffs the past three seasons, the first two years in 2-0 sweeps. Harrisburg won its last five regular-season games and leads the Spirit in the season series, 4-2. The Heat leads the all-time series 19-11 and is 6-1 vs. Baltimore in the playoffs.

Franklin McIntosh, who once played for the Heat, will return to the Spirit's lineup after being suspended from the team's final two regular-season games for missing practice. McIntosh leads the Spirit in scoring with 177 points, followed by Kevin Sloan (142) and Stankovic (104).

Cleveland Crunch (31-9, first place) vs. Buffalo Blizzard (21-19, fourth place).

The season series is tied at 2, but the Crunch outscored the Blizzard, 83-77. Hector Marinaro led the NPSL in scoring with 247 points in 33 games. Zoran Karic was Cleveland's second-leading scorer with 184 points, followed by Doug Miller (career-high 136 points) and Henry Gutierrez (95).

The Blizzard has five 100-point scorers, including Marcelo Carrera (125), who was acquired from the Canton Invaders. Buffalo has nine players who were with the Invaders' 1989-90 championship squad.

This is the fourth straight year these teams have met in the division semifinals. The Crunch, which has lost six of its past 10 games, has eliminated Buffalo in three games the past three seasons.

National Division

Kansas City Attack (32-8, first place) vs. Wichita Wings (20-20, fourth place).

The Attack, which won the NPSL title three years ago, is 5-1 against the Wings this season, but this is the first time these two rivals have met in the postseason. Kansas City has yielded a league-low 430 points this season behind goalies Brett Phillips (20-4) and Warren Westcoat (10-3).

Kevin Koetters leads the Attack in scoring with 132 points, followed by former Blast and Spirit striker Goran Hunjak (124) and Wes Wade (96). Ted Eck was the Wings' only 100-point scorer with 115.

Wichita's most productive defenseman, Tom Soehn (74 points, 67 blocked shots), is out for the season with a knee injury.

Milwaukee Wave (30-10, second place) vs. St. Louis Ambush (24-16, third place).

The defending NPSL champion St. Louis Ambush is led by Joe Reiniger (170 points). The Ambush knocked the Wave out of contention in the 1994 semifinals and leads the all-time series, 13-8.

Victor Nogueira, the second 30-game winner in league history, played in all 40 games for the Wave and his 10.25 points-against average helped Milwaukee yield 438 points, second in the league.

(Final NPSL standings, 10D)

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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